It’s been a busy few weeks but before I get on to our very successful Knockhill event I’ll tell you about our less successful Snetterton.
After the summer break we were keen to get back into action and indeed Snetterton was looking very promising for us. We had a test session on Wednesday and we tried a big setup change on the car, which suited me very well. Finding a setup has been a struggle most of the season since the tyre compound change and what works for Adam tends not to work for me. From the changes I was posting very quick times and consistently too.
Come Saturday, we had good times given that the tyres we ran on in FP1 couldn't be any worse (we had used them at Croft, and the track surface there is tough on tyres). We tried going further with the setup changes for FP2 and that, combined with possibly pushing too hard, too soon, led to the crash. As I turned in at turn 1, the car snapped sideways then corrected, meaning I effectively had to turn in again. By this time I was on the marbles (rubber debris from the tyres) and lost the rear. Due to the nature of the corner and the gear I was in, I didn't have the revs to bring the front end back around. By the time it started to come back, the left rear touched the grass on the exit which spat the car head-on to the wall. I still hadn't braked as I kept my foot on the throttle to steer the front from the wall to try and limit the damage. I remember thinking, ‘This is going to hurt,’ then the next minute I was on a stretcher in a doctor’s room being told I was about to be airlifted to hospital.
The car had taken a massive side impact, lifted up, then dropped heavily to the ground. The side impact meant that my HANS device head restraint was not so effective — apparently I had lost consciousness for a few seconds but was helped out by marshals and walked away from the car. However as a precaution I was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge; I returned to the circuit early that afternoon but was forced to sit out the following day’s racing.
After suffering concussion after the incident at Snetterton I was pronounced fit to race by the BTCC Medical Director Dr Paul Trafford on the Friday morning at Knockhill circuit. So I was absolutely delighted to back at Knockhill and looking forward to the race weekend! The car had been repaired and was sporting my favourite Knockhill set up. The team had worked very hard to make sure everything was ready for racing at our favourite circuit and the support and good wishes I’ve had from the fans and fellow BTCC drivers and team members has been amazing.
And what a weekend it turned out to be! Qualifying went well ending up p11, but in Race 1 I was unfortunately taken out early-on, and upon rejoining the track I ended up pushing for fast lap times and backing off for space to do so (Race 1 fastest lap times set up the grid for Race 2). I got some good, fast laps in and this lead to us starting p12 in Race 2.
Race 2 went well, getting a good start and having great pace in the car, but it was a good, fast race and although I struggled to move much higher, finishing in 9th was very satisfying. The top 10 was a great feeling, so you can imagine how I was feeling with the Race 3 reverse grid situation — it meant that I was in p2 with Adam Morgan and his Mercedes on p1.
The Mercedes-Benz one-two on the front of the grid certainly looked impressive! I admitted to Louise Goodman when she interviewed me on the grid for ITV Motorsport that starting on the front row made me nervous enough, never mind having Neal and Plato as the two cars behind!
In the race I got a good start but unfortunately made a mistake that let Neal get past. After that, the front tyres went off badly and I really struggled. I had a hard battle with Priaux before being passed with a move that resulted in a penalty for him — officials ruled that the BMW driver had passed under yellow flags and handed him a 3.5 second time penalty. Priaulx dropped to fourth and in-doing so, gave me a first ever podium finish in the BTCC.
As I thought about it later, while fourth would have been our highest position so far, it was a bit frustrating to begin with, but it was not long before the officials confirmed my third place and to actually get the podium is a great feeling! We had so much support at Knockhill, to get a podium anywhere would have been great, but to get it at home is really special.
We’ve had some really good days this year — every time we go out we learn more and more. At Knockhill it was about defending, and now it’s nice to be rewarded for the hard work. Looking behind you and seeing Matt Neal and Jason Plato, who have been in this championship since before I was born, was pretty daunting. Then to have triple World Champion Priaulx catch me didn’t make it much easier! We managed to technically hold on to the podium, and it’s a big thing for us especially after Snetterton. So now I’d better start thinking about Rockingham.
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